Prime Minister Hun Sen’s intervention last week in the cases of two Kampong Speu women jailed over incidents stemming from a land dispute appears to have inspired disputants across the country.
One hundred people from villages in Battambang and Banteay Meanchey embroiled in land disputes arrived in Phnom Penh yesterday to petition Hun Sen and the Ministry of Justice to free their jailed compatriots.
“I heard on the radio and television that Samdech [Hun Sen] helped the representatives of people in Kampong Speu province, so we want Samdech to help our representatives as well,” said Nut Sovananrith, a villager from among 56 families in Battambang’s Sampov Loun district who are challenging a claim by Suon Mean Sambath Company to land they had inhabited previously.
Sovananrith explained that one of the families’ representatives, Chhorn Chhat, has been in Battambang’s provincial prison since January 31 following a private property violation complaint by fellow villager Nil Sort. Sovananrith and the 56 families plan to petition the prime minister’s office today for the release of Chhat, who they claim is innocent.
Sixty people representing 212 Banteay Meanchey families delivered a petition to the Justice Ministry yesterday. They, too, are locked in a land dispute and have representatives in jail whose charges they want re-examined by the ministry.
Sean Vy, a representative of the Banteay Meanchey villagers, said their dispute has been running for nearly 10 years.
Vy currently has six criminal complaints against him and said he is not alone. Many of his people’s representatives are being sued by or prosecuted on behalf of land brokers, he claimed. He believes only the premier can help.
“If Samdech [Hun Sen] does not intervene, the land dispute will not end. The provincial governor cannot help since the land grabbers are two or three star generals.” said Vy.
Justice Ministry spokesman Kim Santepheap declined to comment.
However, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that while everyone is entitled to petition the prime minister, he has no authority to order a court to free an individual.
“The prime minister has no power to order the court to do this,” said Siphan. “The situation was resolved in Kampong Speu by releasing the individuals on bail, but the procedure against them continues.”
Senior Adhoc land rights investigator Yi Sokan yesterday called on the government to intervene on behalf of all individuals hit with court cases while involved in land disputes.
Similarly, independent analyst Meas Ny said cases such as these gave Hun Sen an opportunity to admit injustices are rife among land disputes while boosting his credentials as a populist.